In the Beginning… A Reflection on the Grouse Ridge-Black Buttes-Five Lakes Basin Area

A waterfall in the Five Lakes Basin provides water from snowbanks to one of my favorite lakes. The Black Buttes tower above. Hemlocks, pines and firs grow on the hillside.

 

Old Pond

Blue mountain, white snow gleam
Through pine bulk and slender needle-sprays;
little hemlock half in shade,
ragged rocky skyline,

single clear flat nuthatch call:
down from the treetrunks

up through time.

At Five Lakes Basin’s
Biggest little lake
after all day scrambling on the peaks,
a naked bug with a white body and brown hair

dives in the water,

Splash!

A poem by the Nobel Prize winner and the “poet laureate of Deep Ecology, ” Gary Snyder.

I have just returned from my last backpacking trip of the summer, my fifth— one for each decade I’ve shouldered a pack and disappeared into the wilderness. My last two trips included the Grouse Ridge-Black Buttes-Five Lakes Basin area, the same region Gary Snyder refers to above. He lives outside of nearby Nevada City (just above Grass Valley in the map below), and, like me, has wandered and loved the glacier carved country from top to bottom, from the Buttes to the Basin.

The maps below provide information on the location of the area and where I backpacked on my two trips.

 

Yellow marks the general location of my two trips this summer into the Grouse Ridge area just north of Interstate 80 between Sacramento, California and Reno, Nevada in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. (I was raised in a small town just outside of Placerville.)

The area circled in yellow was where we backpacked. I-80 can be seen at the bottom of the photo. I helped achieve the non-motorized status for the area in the 1970s when I was serving as Executive Director of the Sacramento Ecology/Environmental Center.

A close-up of the area. Today I am featuring Glacier Lake and the trail there from Grouse Ridge marked in yellow, which was the route I followed on my first trip. I went into the Basin on the Sand Ridge Trail when I backpacked in with my family.

The first trip into the Basin I made by myself this summer; the second was with my wife Peggy, my daughter Natasha, and her two sons, Ethan and Cody. It was our grandkids’ first backpacking trip and I wanted them to explore the area where my own backpacking experiences had begun in 1969— where I had first discovered the joys of backpacking, and the beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Our daughter Natasha with her two boys, Ethan on the left and Cody on the right. Sierra granite provides the backdrop.

Ethan and Cody contemplate another climb. Both boys, Ethan at 12 and Cody at 9, carried full backpacks. Ethan was like a deer on the trail, bounding ahead. Cody was like a Sierra badger, digging in and not giving up, mastering the trail one step at a time.

In the beginning: It sounds almost biblical. Dan Iles would like it. I met Dan at Glacier Lake on my first trip into the Grouse Ridge area this summer. He introduced himself as the Dean of Graduate Studies at the Shasta Bible College in Redding, California. He’s a serious Christian, and a heck of a nice fellow. I liked him immediately. He had backpacked into Glacier Lake with his 13-year-old grandson and told me that he had been bringing youth groups into the area since the 70s.

The Reverend Dan Iles at Glacier Lake.

I was getting ready to leave the next morning when he came over for a chat. I had told him the night before that I lived in the Applegate Valley near the small town of Ruch in Southern Oregon and he wanted to know if I attended one of the churches there that he was familiar with. I explained that I was a bit more Eastern in my beliefs, a bit more Zen, and something of an Agnostic. I dug into my pack and found Siddhartha, a 1922 novel by Hermann Hesse that a friend had given me in the 70s. The novel describes Siddhartha’s journey to enlightenment at the time of the Buddha. I read it every few years because it reminds me of the importance of living in the present, of the interconnectivity of all things, and the value of a simple life— of not getting lost in our materialistic world.

Reading Siddhartha after dinner beside a quiet Sierra Lake. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Dan and I must have talked for 45 minutes or so about our lives. He described himself as a Professor of Practical Theology and told me of his efforts to help children and women in Africa who had been left homeless and destitute by the seemingly endless conflicts. He also told me that he believed in freedom of religion, that people should be free to worship according to their own beliefs, which is a concept that I strongly support. Still, I could tell he was concerned about my soul, that he would have considered a day spent trying to convert me as a day well-spent. It went with the territory of who he was and what he believed.

As I hiked past his camp to say goodbye on my way down into the Five Lakes Basin he urged that I read the Book of John in the New Testament. “It does an excellent job of describing the miracles of Christ,” he assured me. I’d read John before. In my youth, I had been considered a prime candidate for becoming an Episcopal priest. But I read it again on Dan’s recommendation. Miracles are what have been pulling people into Christianity for millennia. Jesus changes water to wine, feeds five-thousand people with two fish and five loaves of bread, walks on water, heals the sick, revives the dead, and ascends to Heaven.

I should have said, “Thanks, I’ll do that,” and moved on. But I couldn’t help myself. “I don’t need miracles, Dan” I responded. “I’ve got this.” And I raised my hands to take in the surrounding countryside. The towering Black Buttes climbed above the blue-green Glacier Lake. Giant red firs and pines stood as silent sentinels over the campground. Brightly colored flowers called to insects with an urgency that predated man’s sojourn on earth. Massive cumulus clouds spoke of lightning and thunder and rain and hail— of the incredible power of nature. If I needed awe, if I needed inspiration, if I needed a reason to believe, it was right there in front of me, behind me, surrounding me. I didn’t have to travel back in time 2000 years to events that required a leap of faith to believe. I waved one last time, turned, and hiked down the trail toward the Five Lakes Basin.

Photos of Glacier Lake and my hike into the lake.

The Black Buttes of the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains tower over Glacier Lake.

A close up of the Black Buttes as the sun sets.

The moon hovers above the Black Buttes in the northern Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

A small pool fed by melting snow provided this reflection shot at Glacier Lake.

Red fir reached for the sky above my campsite.

Glacier Lake in the Grouse Ridge Area of the Northern Sierra Nevada mountains.

I found these two moss colored elders along the trail to Glacier Lake.

What insect could resist this brightly colored Red Mountain Heather that I took a close up of along the Glacier Lake Trail.

Towering cumulus clouds threatened thunder, lightning and hail at Glacier Lake.

I found a small creek along the trail to Glacier Lake and decided to camp next to it, thinking it might provide a short hike for my grandsons. (They didn’t need it.) I removed bear scat from the campsite so they wouldn’t get too nervous.

This boulder next to the campsite reminded me that the area had been carved by glaciers. The granite rock, known as an erratic, had been left behind by one of the glaciers.

I hid out under my tent’s groundcloth as lightning flashed, thunder rolled, and hail pounded down on my campsite. Later, as the sun set, all that was left of the storm was a few puffy clouds.

 

NEXT POST: It’s down into the Five Lake Basin.

 

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Out of the Woods… For a Day

Ready for another adventure, I look out toward the Black Buttes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains north of I-80. Peggy dropped me off at the trailhead, wished me well, and took this photo. And then I headed down the trail.

I am out of the woods— for a day— and decided to check in. I have just finished backpacking by myself for a week in the Grouse Ridge Non-Motorized Area of the Sierra Nevada Mountains north of Interstate 80. I’m going back into the same area tomorrow with Peggy, our daughter Tasha, and our grandsons Ethan and Cody. It’s a beautiful area, and I have lots of adventures to share. Like how do you persuade a cow that she really doesn’t want to camp with you overnight?

Anyway, here are a few photos to serve as a teaser. I should be home next Monday, which will give me a chance to catch up with fellow bloggers after a summer of backpacking. Of course I will be madly getting ready for Burning Man 2017… (grin).

I expect to see wild animals out on the trail, but this one didn’t seem particularly wild. In fact, I think she wanted to camp with me. Maybe she had seen the same fresh bear poop I had.

Turns out the weather was much more of a challenge than the bear. Shortly after my discussion with the cow, I was in the middle of a thunder, lightning and hail storm!

This is an area of incredible beauty that I have returned to again and again over the years. There are meadows filled with flowers…

That are always forcing me to stop and take their photo.

Numerous small lakes…

And the Black Buttes, seen here at Glacier Lake— lit up by the setting sun.

A final shot from Glacier Lake as the sun goes down, outlining what I considered to be a very strange tree.

See you all next week. —Curt

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A Canyon of Mystery and Magic… Sego Canyon Rock Art

These larger-than-life pictographs at Sego Canyon in Utah are among the strangest I have ever seen. Now add in the fact that they are several thousand years old. And what’s with the pictograph on the right? Also, check out this guy’s spiky hairdo.

 

Zipping along Interstate 70 in Utah, you might very well decide to take a detour and visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. It is a decision you will never regret. The odds are, however, that you will miss the small road that extends north of the Arches turnoff heading toward the town of Thompson Springs. In so doing so, you will miss the opportunity to visit one of the most magical and mysterious rock art sites in the Western United States: Sego Canyon.

Our van sits in Sego Canon as Peggy and I wander around looking for rock art. Most of it is located on the two rock faces below. Peggy watches as I work my way up closer to the petroglyphs.

Most of the rock art at Sego Canyon is found on the two faces of this large rock.

This is another rock face that Peggy and I checked for petroglyphs in Sego Canyon. We didn’t find any rock art but the rock itself was quite unusual. I could see why Native Americans might have considered the area sacred.

Three different historical periods are represented in the rock art here dating back over a period of 6,000 years. The most fascinating to me are the pictographs left behind during the Archaic period by nomads who roamed the area from 8,000 to 2,000 years ago. The large, anthropomorphic forms that are painted on the rock normally lack eyes, arms and legs but may come with antennae, snakes and earrings. Known as the Barrier Canyon Style, it’s hard not to think of these pictographs as alien, or at least imagine a shaman encountering these creatures on a drug induced journey into an alien world.

Dave Kingsbury, one of my followers from England, and I were discussing cults where people run around with rattlesnakes in their hands. We both agreed that such sport wasn’t for us. This horned pictograph from the Archaic period seems to have a thing for snakes. Possibly he belonged to such a cult. Or possibly he was a very powerful shaman.

Or maybe something else. I see this and I want to say, “Take me to your leader.”

And this.

I find these jellyfish-like pictographs even more mysterious than the anthropomorphs. UFO fans might describe it as a space ship taking off, but hey, maybe it is a jellyfish. Or likely something else.

This shot provides a view of how some of the pictographs fit together on the right side of snake man.

And to the left..

And now, all together.

A final shot from the Archaic period. I found these pictographs a bit ghostly.

The Fremont Culture took over from the Archaic period and lasted from  600 CE to 1200 CE. Unlike the nomadic Archaic peoples, the natives of the Fremont period grew corn, lived in permanent stone buildings, and had a complex social structure. Most of the rock art they left behind is in petroglyph form, pecked into rather than painted on the rock.

The Fremont era had its own strange figures, but these were loaded down with jewelry. I found the hand interesting. I wonder if it is holding Datura seeds. It looks a bit like a foot walking in the circle. And there is a Big Horn sheep. It is rare to find petroglyph sites in the west that don’t include them.

A close up of the two figures with another ghostly one to the right. There is also another hand and another sheep, a fat fellow. The tiny figure on the left looks more like a deer to me.

And finally, we have the more modern Ute Culture that populated the area from 1300 to 1880 CE, when the Utes were forced out of their homes and onto Indian Reservations so pioneers could grab their land. One way to distinguish petroglyphs from this period is the presence of horses, which the Spaniards brought to North America in the Sixteenth Century. In fact, horses are a major tool used in  dating rock art.

This Ute rock art featured what is thought to be a shield. I’d say that the horse is about to become horse meat.  But wait, is that a small man on the back of the horse? Maybe he is the enemy.

Ute Indians seem to hunt buffalo in this scene, which will be my last for Sego Canyon. If you ever find yourself in the area, don’t miss the opportunity to explore this fascinating  site.

Next Post: I am still out backpacking but will try to get a post up on petroglyphs Peggy and I have photographed in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks during my next break between trips.

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Pass the Datura, Please… I Want to Make a Square.

Geometrical forms are often found in rock art, and the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site is no exception. The body of this horse with its ears back and tail sticking out is filled with squares. I’m wondering if its pose is a result of eating Datura, whose seed are represented by the two circles. Or maybe it just spotted the horse-sized snake off to the right. My ears would be back and tail sticking out too.

 

Datura, one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s favorite flowers to paint, is a strong hallucinogen, and dangerous. Shamans of the western US often used it to induce visions and travel on their journeys into other worlds. It seems quite likely that many of the stranger petroglyphs found at Three Rivers were inspired by its use. There is also a theory that many of the geometric patterns found in rock art sites throughout the world are hard-wired into the brained and are discovered through the use of hallucinogenic drugs.

Datura, also known as Jimsyn Weed.

Datura, a beautiful but dangerous plant is also known as Jimson Weed. I took this photo along the American River Parkway in Sacramento.

I’ve always been amused by how Datura earned its Jimson (Jamestown) Weed name. Apparently the residents of Jamestown fed the plant to British soldiers in 1676 who had been sent to quell a rebellion by the townsfolk. One of the soldiers spent his time trying to blow a feather up into the air while another sat naked in a corner and made faces at them. The other soldiers were similarly effected.

Following are a few of the petroglyphs we found at Three Rivers that featured geometric forms and were perhaps inspired by the use of Datura.

This particular petroglyph at Three Rivers reminded me of a spiral galaxy. Maybe it was supposed to.

This large petroglyph was laid out like a maze.

Another large rock petroglyph. This one of squares with one of the squares filled with further squares.

Another maze like petroglyph. Following the spiral takes you to the center of this large circle.

Lacking the geometric look of the above petroglyphs, this may be a ladder leading down to a map of personal crop sites. Many Native Americans lived in cliff dwellings and would travel by ladder to farms below. I wonder if the footprint isn’t saying ‘walk this way.’

Here’s a pattern that you might expect to find in a modern-day Navajo blanket.

Okay, I’m thinking Datura here. The wavy lines might actually represent a river, but the eyes? (On the top maps I use backpacking, they would represent two depressions in the land.)

Circles are common at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site. This may represent the sun.

And I conclude my posts on Three Rivers with what might be another candidate for Datura influence.

NEXT POST: Continuing my series on petroglyphs, I’ll travel up to Sego Canyon in Utah. Since I am out backpacking in the Sierra’s,  I’ll respond to comments on my return.

 

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There’s Something Fishy about the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

 

What’s an octopus doing at the Three Rivers Petroglyph site in south central New Mexico.

 

This, and my next post, will take us back to the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in New Mexico. I am backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains this week and will respond to comments next week. Thanks, as always, for following my blog and reading my posts. 

 

It’s really dry at the Three Rivers Petroglyph site in New Mexico, like desert dry, like 10 inches of rain a year dry! So what’s with the petroglyph of an octopus? It’s at least 800 miles to the nearest body of large water, the Gulf of Mexico, and a similar distance to the Pacific Ocean. I’d think it was one of strange aliens that rock artists like to portray if it weren’t for the three-masted ship with the guy in the stern also found at the Three Rivers site.

Check out this three-masted sailing ship and what appears to be a guy peering over the railing. Even the experts scratch there heads over this petroglyph.

Obviously, someone from the Jornada Tribe had traveled to distant lands and returned to share his or her experiences as rock art. Maybe several members of the tribe had travelled on such journeys. Peggy and I also found fish, a possible seal, and maybe even a whale among the petroglyphs. The frog is a bonus.

A seal perhaps.

There’s no doubt about this fish. But note the geometric patterns. I’ll return to this theme in my next blog.

This is the whale. At least that’s what I am going with. You can make out its mouth on the left and then eye, fin and fluke. This is another example  of fitting the rock art to the rock.

Slightly off subject but still associated with water, I had to put this frog somewhere! Is this one saying, “I need a hug!” ?

 

NEXT POST: Geometric forms among the petroglyphs of the Three Rivers Petroglyph National Recreation Site in New Mexico.

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No-see-um Camp, a Sacred Grove, and Cougar Poop

No-see-um camp, which we expected to be bug infested, turned out to be nestled among trees that made me think of a sacred grove.

Part II of our hike up Cook and Green Creek to the Pacific Crest Trail through the Rogue River National Forest.

Our goal for the day was No-see-um Camp, which seems like a very poor place to set up your tent. If you have spent much time outdoors, you will recognize no-see-ums as particularly nasty little bugs. I first encountered them when backpacking on the Appalachian Trail in Maine. It had rained for a solid week and every biting bug in existence had considered us fair game. While mosquitoes had treated our bug repellant as an hors d’oeuvre, no-see-ums had come after us with knives and forks. Later, I watched a moose in Alaska dash wildly about and roll in a snow bank to escape the tiny, nefarious fiends. Fortunately, we didn’t find any no-see-ums in No-see-um camp. It was quite the opposite. I decided we had arrived in a sacred grove.

Sacred groves go almost as far back as humanity. Think of the Druids and their oaks. In West Africa, where I served in the Peace Corps, huge cottonwoods were thought to contain living spirits and I often found offerings at their bases. It’s important to keep the forest spirits happy.

No-see-um camp had more species of trees than I have ever found in a single location, many of them were giants. From our camp, I could see Douglas fir, sugar pine, white fir, blue spruce, chinquapin, big leaf maple, and yew. Just up the trail I found a ponderosa pine. Cook and Green Creek with its cool, refreshing water bubbled and burbled and roared its way down the canyon just behind our tent. I figured it was an excellent place to commune with nature spirits and Peggy found a camp guardian up in the trees, which I thought was quite pagan of her.

Another view looking up from our campsite on Cook and Green Creek. This one features big leaf maples.

There is a reason for their name!

We also had chinquapin growing in the grove. This prickly thing covers the trees nuts, which are said to be tasty.

Giant sugar pines with their large cones and giant Douglas firs with their small cones surrounded us.

I found a large ponderosa pine near by. Do you know what made the line of holes? It was a sapsucker, a kind of woodpecker. It will return to eat any insects that have entered the holes.

Cook and Green Creek flowed just behind our tent. It was burbling here.

Small waterfalls added a slight roar.

And I found the way the water flowed over a rock to be intriguing.

The downed tree next to our tent provided a good perspective on the size of the larger trees.

This odd tree growth just above our site served as Peggy’s camp guardian. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Guardian’s tree was also impressive.

We used our layover day as an opportunity to do a nine mile hike up to the pass and back. Going up, we entertained ourselves by enjoying flowers and other plant life while looking for signs of wildlife. And yes, I have more animal poop, scat, to share with you. I’ll bet you’re excited.

A shelf fungus.

Any idea what is happening here? Carpenter ants were making their nest. They are a fairly large ant that literally cut off small, sawdust-size chunks of wood and then bring it out to the edge where they dump it on to the sawdust pile at the bottom of the photo.

Peggy poses beside a fallen tree.

Which happened to feature another wood sculpture that Peggy determined was a dragon.

We found these unusual cones that actually grow directly on the limbs of the trunks and limbs of the knob cone pine.

Okay, I put up pretty, or at least I hope interesting photos, and then I put up poop. Why? Half the fun of wilderness travel is knowing what you are seeing around you. Scat (poop) is one way of telling what animals are using the trail you are on. This happens to be cougar, or mountain lion scat. The twisted piece on the end is fairly definitive of the cat family. Size suggests cougar. It was dry, so we were in little danger of an immediate encounter.

Since we are on animal signs, any idea of what made this? Odds are it was a porcupine. They chew off the outer bark to get to the nutritious, inner bark.

This attractive small waterfall, provided cool water to drink with our  lunch. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

After lunch on our way up to the pass, we found this attractive Blue Spruce…

And a flower, which is known as Ranger’s buttons.

On top, we met Rambo, Dogondo, and Double D: three PCT through hikers. Their names are their trail names. They had started at the Mexican border and been backpacking since April, covering close to 1000 miles. They were skinny and ever so eager to reach Oregon, which was just up the trail. One of them told me that Sasquatch (Big Foot) had been rooting around outside his tent the night before.

Rambo, a PCT through hiker from Riverside, California.

Dogondo, a PCT through hiker from Chicago.

Double D, a PCT through hiker from Kansas City.

We raced on our way back down from the pass. I was careful to keep Peggy behind me. She thinks that she is a greyhound when she gets out in front going down a hill. I once sprained my ankle trying to keep up with her coming off of Muir Pass on the John Muir Trail and had to hobble another 80 miles before we finally climbed up and over Mt. Whitney and out. Taught me.

Peggy, all set to go, wearing one of her favorite T-shirts.

The Cook and Green Trail and Some Really Weird Trees… Part I

The way madrone trees shed their bark is strange enough without having a pair of eyes staring out at you. We found this specimen along the lower end of the Cook and Green Trail.

 

Today’s post will take you along with Peggy and me on our latest backpacking adventure. This time, the trailhead was a mere 30 minutes from our house! The Cook and Green Trail follows Cook and Green Creek up to Cook and Green Pass where it connects into the Pacific Crest Trail, the PCT. (That’s a lot of Cook and Green; they were gold miners who worked the area in the 1870s and 80s.) Starting at the pass, we could have made a right turn and hiked to Mexico or a left turn and hiked to Canada. Another time. (grin)

Peggy points out a PCT marker showing the trail south. Had we followed it, we could have been to Mexico in a thousand miles.

We were greeted by a pair of signs at the Cook and Green trailhead, which I found amusing. Both were products of the US Forest Service. I don’t think the hand on the first poster is that of America’s preeminent spokesperson for fire prevention, Smokey the Bear; I think it belongs to Bigfoot! The second sign warned us about bears. Serious stuff.

Did this sign use Bigfoot to emphasize fire prevention? Or is it a clawless Smokey? It’s puzzling.

It’s smart to be aware of bears when backpacking, but you should not let them keep you out of the woods.

I am a veteran of the backcountry of Yosemite, where the bears actually run a school on how to steal backpacker’s food. (Fake news, but just barely.) So I wasn’t too worried about the bears of the Rogue River and Klamath National Forests. Still, the poster is worth reviewing. Avoid confrontation: That’s always sage advice when you are dealing with a grumpy animal that can outrun you, outweighs you, and comes with long claws and sharp teeth. You don’t want to surprise them and you don’t want to get between a mother and her cubs. That having been said, bears aren’t particularly interested in eating people.  If they were, they would move into towns where there are lots of people to eat. Mainly, they prefer to avoid humans, like most sensible wild animals.

Your food? Well, that’s a horse of a different color, or at least a bear that has hung out around careless people. When I see bear poop that includes bits and pieces of the plastic used to package  freeze-dried backpackers’ food, I know to be on the lookout. BTW, a Yosemite bear would laugh at the advice to hang your food high in a tree. Guess what, bears climb trees. And if mama bear can’t climb a tree in Yosemite to retrieve your chow, she sends her babies up. The advice in Yosemite used to be that your food bag had to be at least nine feet off of the ground and nine feet away from the trunk, with no ropes hanging down! I’ve watched bears play tether ball with food that wasn’t hung high enough. Now the park rangers want you to carry plastic bear-proof barrels. I’ve never worried much about bears when away from Yosemite. Still, care is called for.

It’s good advice about dogs. Way back in history, I was out backpacking with my first father-in-law’s Springer Spaniel, Sparky, and came across a bear. Sparky jumped behind me and then stuck her head out between my legs and started barking vociferously. The bear stopped and growled before ambling on. I told Sparky that if the bear had charged I would have picked her up and tossed her out in front of me.

The Cook Green Trail begins its journey through a burned-out area. In 2012, we watched from our home as huge billows of smoke climbed above the forest and a fleet of helicopters used large buckets to dip water out of Applegate Reservoir, one mile above our home, to fight the Fort Complex fire. It was only a few miles away, and we watched nervously. Today, new growth is returning to the area as nature performs one of her miracles.

This photo captures the area where the Fort Complex Fire stopped burning along the Cook and Green Trail. It’s a good example of burned and non burned forest. On the burned side, the green near the ground shows where the forest is beginning to recover.

While the hike through the burned-out area was interesting, our fun began on the other side. Peggy came across a mile marker that she felt needed to be decorated, a madrone tree featured eyes peering out from its strange, peeling bark, several oak trees were dressed in moss, tree roots created weird sculptures, and the Mother of All Roots stood higher than me.

Someone, probably the forest service, had placed mile markers along the first section of the Cook and Green Trail. Peggy decided to decorate the marker by adding sugar pine cones beside the marker and rocks in front.

I thought these moss-covered live oaks were quite unique.

This is a close up of the tree moss.

We also found this interesting growth. At first I thought it was stag horn moss but it may be a lichen.

Tree roots can create fun sculptures. I’m not sure I would want to meet up with this one on a dark night!

More ordinary, but still interesting, this root had taken a detour around a rock and captured it.

And here we have the Mother of All Roots!

I stood next to it just before the root connected to the trunk to provide perspective. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

NEXT BLOG: We hike on to No-see-um camp, which turns out to be closer to a sacred grove than a bug infested swamp, and hike up to Cook Green Pass where we find PCT through hikers and mountain lion sign.

 

Azalea Lake and Bigfoot’s Big Foot…

We found this carving of Bigfoot (Sasquatch) on a stump at our campsite on Azalea Lake in the Red Butte Wilderness.

The Red Butte Wilderness: Part II

In my last post, Peggy and I backpacked into the Red Buttes Wilderness, which is located about 10 miles from us at the crow flies. Our objective was to reach Azalea Lake but about half way there, our bodies had another idea. Camp. Today’s post starts off  the next morning. 

Our bodies grumped as we made them get out of bed to finish the hike. Loudly.

Not far from our camp, we passed the lonely grave of Sylvan Gosliner, Ruby Gosliner and Alma Pratt. Their airplane had crashed in the canyon in 1945 on a return trip to Portland from San Francisco. Why, has never been determined. The forest service had retrieved the body of the pilot while relatives of the Gosliners and Pratt had chosen to bury their family members beside the trail. It’s a beautiful location. Wreckage of the plane can still be found in the canyon below.

The rock covered grave of Sylvan and Ruby Gosliner and Alma Pratt along Butte Fork Creek with its simple bronze marker.

Red cedars replaced the pines as we continued our climb through the dry forest, while cheerful tiger lilies and other flowers brightened our way whenever we crossed a stream. Eventually we arrived at Red Cedar Basin. Peggy zonked out on a flat rock while I wandered around the meadow, which was filled with corn lilies. Had there been water, it would have become camp. But Azalea Lake beckoned. We dutifully shouldered our packs and completed the trip. We found an attractive campsite and settled in for the afternoon and next day. Numerous insects greeted our arrival and some came by to take blood donations. By seven PM, Peggy had disappeared into the tent. She’s been known to disappear inside at the buzz of the first mosquito— leaving me outside to entertain our flying and crawling visitors.

Red cedars replaced Douglas fir and sugar pine trees as we climbed in elevation.

While the forest was dry with limited vegetation most of the way, it changed whenever we came to streams, turning into a vibrant flower garden with flowers such as this tiger lily…

Wild iris…

And Indian paintbrush.

I caught Peggy napping at Cedar Basin…

And she caught me in our camp at Azalea Lake.

Azalea Lake is a jewel located in a basin surrounded by peaks and ringed by azaleas. Tall, incredibly straight lodgepole pines provided us with shade on our layover day as we hung out, snacked, read, and went for a hike around the lake, where we found a couple backpacking and carrying a tent, literally. Noisy chickarees (small tree squirrels) scolded us for our intrusion. As did the always vociferous Stellar jays. Quieter birds such as robins, Juncos, and fly catchers merely went about their business of scrounging for food as the sun made its way across the sky. A Pileated Woodpecker caught our attention with a more stentorian call.

Azalea Lake nestles between peaks in the Red Butte Wilderness. I took this photo on our first trip into the area. The peak on the left and the draw is featured below in the setting sun photos.

An early morning shot on this trip…

And an evening shot.

Azaleas surround the lake but we arrived when most of the blooms were gone. We did manage to find these however.

And some interesting bear grass.

A close up.

We also found these two backpackers carrying a tent. “You have to let me take your photo,” I insisted. “We are only moving a couple of hundred yards to find a better campsite,” they explained, a bit sheepishly.

Incredibly straight lodgepole pines provided shade for our camp. The dead tree provides a good example of just how straight these trees grow and why they served as center ‘lodge poles’ for roofs on early pioneer cabins.

As the sun prepared to say goodnight, it bathed the surrounding peaks in soft light, an event that always sends me scurrying with my camera. Peggy and I hiked down the trail but couldn’t catch any clear shots through the trees. A surprise was waiting for us back at camp, however: an ingenious carving of Bigfoot. I don’t know how we had missed it; we had walked by it several times. I considered the discovery a sign that I needed to go out again to capture a photo of the alpenglow— and just possibly the illusive giant.

Trees blocked our view of the peaks above Azalea Lake as the sun began to set.

The Bigfoot carving in our camp at Azalea Lake.

While Peggy stayed in camp, I made my way through the trees to a meadow at the base of the peaks. A half dry, meandering stream had created a small marsh. Looking up, I had an unobstructed view of the rocks above. I worked my way around the meadow for different perspectives. A draw made its way up the mountain, providing access for animals crossing over the peaks. Apparently, it was well used. The meadow was full of deer sign; there were tracks galore.

A meadow with a small marsh sat at the base of the peak.

The small meadow gave me a clear view of the sun setting on the peak.

A draw made its way up the side of the mountain and provided access for wildlife to the lake.

Numerous deer tracks suggested that the draw was well used.

A large track caught my attention and I stopped to check it out. Something heavy had landed and launched on the spot, apparently in a hurry. A huge bear was my first thought since the depression was a good two inches deep. The deer tracks were closer to a half-inch and bent grass was all I was leaving. I looked around nervously. But something wasn’t right.

  • A bear would have left another track beside it. There was nothing.
  • The print was oblong, very long. Bear prints tend to be more rounded.
  • The paw prints weren’t showing any claw marks, which you normally see on bears. In fact, they looked more like toes!

I found myself getting excited. Had I discovered a track of Bigfoot’s big foot?! I rested my boot alongside the track. I have big feet myself, size 14 American (49 European). The track was seven inches longer, over 20 inches long (50.8 centimeters)! I did a more thorough search for other tracks. A more expert tracker may have found something, but I didn’t. My thought was the creature who made the track was bipedal and running. It had traveled from the dry ground to the marshy area and back to the dry ground.

Was my imagination working overtime? Was I creating a Big Foot where none existed? Maybe. I took photos using my boot and 5×3 inch camera case for comparison and returned to camp to share my treasure with Peggy.

The depression stretched from the front of the foot on the left to the heel mark on the upper right. My 3×5 inch camera case is for comparison.

The impression on the left looked like a toe print to me.

My own size 14 shoe was dwarfed by the print.

The next morning, we were awakened at five AM by a loud thump outside our tent. It sounded a lot like a deer. The deer that live in our neighborhood are forever thumping across the wooden deck next to our bedroom. We sat up with a start and stared through the mosquito screen of our tent.

“There’s something huge and brown beside our packs!” Peggy declared. They were located maybe 15-feet away.

We scrambled for our glasses. We’re both blind as bats without them. Yes, there was something big and brown. A big brown doe. We laughed. For some reason, the doe kept circling our camp for the next hour. Sleep was not an option. We were up early and had our breakfast of oatmeal, coffee and dried apricots. By 8:30 we were packed and ready to go. The trip back to the truck took us half the time of the hike in. And yes, our bodies continued to whine, but only half as much.

NEXT BLOG: Peggy and I head out on another backpacking adventure near our home in Southern Oregon. There’s no Bigfoot, but we discover some really weird natural wood sculptures, and we camp in a beautiful grove of trees where there were more varieties than I have ever seen in one location. Many of them were giants.  I thought of it as a sacred grove.

An Ancient Forest of Giant Trees—and Bigfoot… The Red Butte Wilderness: Part I

Peggy checks out a large sugar pine along the Butte Fork Creek that runs through the heart of the Red Buttes Wilderness. Eventually the creek empties into the Applegate River that runs by our house.

 

A friend once asked (with a grin), why I believed in flying saucers. “Because I saw one,” was my tart reply. And I did. A saucer-shaped object flew into a cloud in Sacramento going one direction and then flew out going another. It accelerated rapidly and disappeared in a couple of seconds. It was enough proof for me.

“And what about Bigfoot?” he followed up, his smile widening to Cheshire proportions. My response was different. I smiled back.

“Because the world can use a little magic; and it’s fun.”

I’m not anti-science or scientific proof. Quite the opposite. Of the magazines we subscribe to, Scientific American is the one I read cover to cover. Religiously. Some 70 books on science grace our library shelves. (I just counted them.) They range from Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe to Richard Feynman’s The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. I’ll confess here, however, that the far-out edge of science looks a lot like magic to me.  Imagine entangled photons mirroring each other’s actions simultaneously over hundreds and even billions of miles. Or how about parallel universes existing side by side on and on to infinity?

Scientifically speaking, however, Bigfoot hardly has a leg to stand on, or a foot, even a big, hairy one. Blurry photos, a few hairs, footprints and little else constitute proof. There’s not even a body or bones. If Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, or Yeti, or any of the other names the species goes by around the world exist, they must have an Einstein-level genius at camouflage, hiding and misdirection.

What exists are numerous sightings, often collaborated by other people. A close relative of mine, who prefers to remain un-named, recently told me that one of the big fellows had run across a logging road in front of him up near Oregon’s McKenzie River in the early 70s. He’d never said anything about the incident. I didn’t get his reticence. Had it been me, I would have been screaming the news from the top of Mt. Hood. But he was working in a conservative industry at the time, and felt they might not appreciate his encounter with the giant. It is such sightings, however, often by responsible, sober-type people, that provide hope for Bigfoot’s existence, the frosting on the magical cake.

The Red Buttes Wilderness, located on the remote, northern edge of California in the Siskiyou Mountains, is prime Bigfoot country. We can see the Buttes from our house in southern Oregon, some 10 miles away as the crow flies. We went backpacking in the area three years ago and decided to go again last week. Giant red cedars, sugar cone pines, white pines and Douglas firs dominate the area. They’re the type of trees that make the logging industry salivate. They would have been cut down decades ago except for the difficulty of getting them out. Now they are protected in one of America’s rare virgin forests. If I were Bigfoot, it’s a place I would certainly want to live.

The Red Butte Mountains of Northern California and Southern Oregon.

The Red Butte Mountains as they appear from our patio.

The world’s only Bigfoot trap is located about five miles from where we live. A miner was once hired to build a cabin beneath the trap and given a tranquilizer gun and a pair of large handcuffs to capture the big guy. Only bears were caught. The doors have long since been welded shut. Otherwise they might have trapped some of the teenagers that insist on spray painting the trap with graffiti. 

Peggy and I drove up a pothole-strewn forest service road to the Shoofly Trailhead to begin our adventure. Just beyond a large parking area, the trail dropped quickly for a half mile or so to the Butte Fork of the Applegate River and then followed the creek uphill for 7-8 miles to Azalea Lake, which was our destination.  We made a leisurely trip of it, letting our time-tested bodies adjust to being on the trail again. At about five miles, they decided they’d done enough adjusting and went searching for a campsite. It was a wimpy thing to do, but our minds gave them leeway for being out on the trail at all. Following are some photos of what we took along the way.

The Butte Fork of the Applegate River is right where the Shoofly Trail meets up with the Butte Forks Trail. It makes for a wonderfully refreshing stop, either going or coming.

Another photo of Butte Fork Creek.

Portions of the Red Butte Wilderness resemble a rainforest. Other areas are quite dry.

Peggy and some of the large trees that live along Butte Fork Creek.

She holds up a sugar pine cone we found beside the trail.

An old cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corp out of red cedar in the 1930s, still exists along the trail. For a while it was used by the forest service to house a forest fire fighting crew. Given its age, I decided to show it in black and white.

A view of Rattlesnake Mountain and Desolation Peak from the Butte Fork Trail.

There came a point, just under these trees next to a small stream, that our bodies decided it was time to camp. While I ranged far above and below the trail looking for a suitable campsite, Peggy found one nearby!

There was just enough space for our small tent.

It came with a bower…

A small reflecting pool with cool water…

And a pair of shelf fungus that seemed to want to talk.

I soon whipped up a quick dinner and we crawled into the tent as soon as the sun had dropped behind the canyon walls.

NEXT POST: We hike on to the pretty Azalea Lake and I (possibly) find proof of Bigfoot’s existence! (Peggy and I are off on another backpacking trip. I’ll respond to comments and check in on blogs when we return.)

 

Rocks Crawling with Snakes… The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site of New Mexico

There are lots of snakes found among the rocks at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in New Mexico— rock art snakes. This is a rattlesnake. Check out the triangular, pit viper head. Also note that the break in the rock was used by the artist to provide a 3-D effect, which was a technique used frequently by Three Rivers artists..

Panamint Rattlesnake in Death Valley.

We found his cousin in the Panamint Mountains of Death Valley. Peggy took its photo out the window of our truck. I thought it would look great coiled up with its tail buzzing and was taking my seatbelt off when Peggy did some rattling of her own, buzzing up the road, thwarting my desire to get up close and personal.

 

Peggy and I have returned from another backpacking trip, a little sore but fine otherwise. We travelled through a gorgeous virgin forest near our home in mountains we can see from our patio. Giant trees including Red Cedar, White Pine, Sugar Pine and Douglas Fir provided shade. It’s Big Foot country and we kept a sharp lookout. And, indeed, we may have found some proof of the big fellow’s existence! Be sure to catch my next post. But for now, back to the snakes of the Three River’s Petroglyph Site.

 

Bad snakes have been giving good snakes a bum rap for eons. It all started when the Biblical Eve bit into the apple she had obtained from the proverbial snake in the tree and realized that she was naked. It must have been a shocking discovery. Snakes have been pummeled, stomped, cut up, diced, crushed, shot, speared and smashed ever since.

Actually, there is no such thing as a bad snake; there are only snakes that have had a bad childhood and will bite you if you step on them, or wake them up when they are sunbathing on their favorite rock, or lollygagging in a scummy pond. They don’t really mean to kill you; it’s a waste of good venom. Normally, we are too big to eat. Although there was that huge boa that lived in the lake next to my house in Liberia…

I’ve had numerous snake encounters over the years from the rainforests of West Africa to the rattlesnake country of the American West. Believe me when I say there is nothing like stepping on a log and having it come alive with the buzz of rattlesnakes. I once set an Olympic record for the standing long jump when that happened.

The Jornada Mogollon people of the Three Rivers Petroglyph site must have had a special relationship with snakes. There are numerous snake glyphs scattered throughout the area— and these are BIG snakes with BIG heads and jaws. “The better to bite you with my dear.” I suspect the snakes were considered sacred and worshipped, which is what the nearby Navajo and Hopi people did.

 

Another rattler. Obviously, the artist wanted to emphasize the business part of the snake— its head.

In one place, we found several snakes slithering down the rocks, which was a bit creepy-crawly!

Rattlesnakes aren’t the only poisonous denizens of the desert recorded by the petroglyphs found at Three Rivers. There are also spiders and scorpions. There was a good reason that cowboys of the Old West always shook out their boots in the morning before putting them on. On the more benign side of the equation, there are a number of rock art lizards.

For the record, Peggy and I always shake out our outdoor shoes before putting them on as well. We’ve never found a scorpion, but spiders are common, and lizards. Peggy once wore her boots for an hour wondering why her foot had developed a toe twitch. She took it off and a lizard hit the ground— running. It still may be.

Scorpions pack a considerable wallop in their tails. It’s best to keep out of their reach.

I’m assuming that this guy is a spider, although it could use some more legs. Artistic license, perhaps? Or maybe it’s a beetle.

We’ve found petroglyphs of lizards in almost every rock art site we have visited throughout the Southwest. This one came with a crooked tail.

This is one of our local lizards that live around our house and think of our shoes as a great place to hang out. It’s my last photo of the day.

 

NEXT POST: A Land of Forest Giants… And Bigfoot.